Ecuador isn’t exactly known for it’s food.
Which is not to say it doesn’t have some good stuff.
But when you’re coming from Los Angeles and all that multicultural diversity in everything from hole-in-the-wall to high-end.
It leaves you wanting.
Which is why we were so surprised upon stumbling into a new restaurant in Cumbayá called NUUM, just few skips and hops down the street from Esquina.
We arrived just past 8pm and the place was empty. So we were a little confused when the host asked if we had reservations.
Apparently, the place doesn’t even start to get kickin’ until after nine.
They seated us at a table in the back corner. After which we were promptly moved to bar stools perched on the other side of the kitchen’s serving window. The chef asked what we’d like to eat. Our only stipulation was no raw. An unfortunate, but necessary request for this pregnant lady.
Our first course was an octopus salad. It was good. But definitely didn’t look as good as the oysters or ceviche that other tables were gifted. My mouth salivated at the sight of shellfish next to delicate flutes of champagne.
Another day, I said to myself.
Up next was a pumpkin puree and fish cheek before the night really started to heat up.
Langostino with curry. Grilled and then topped with a flavorful sauce that is hard to come by in these parts. White fish with a lemongrass reduction and a green bean peanut pesto. And then the smoked fish with reduced chicken broth gravy that was so deeply savory it filled my whole body with the kind of comforting warmth you feel when you curl up next to a wood burning fire on a cold night.
After every course, the chef gave us options based on what they had that day making each dish feel deliciously personal. The meal progressing in heft and flavor like any good meal should.
Something I haven’t seen since moving to Ecuador two years ago. Or would even dare to order outside of a setting like this. But I trusted the man. Perfectly rendered fat and a sinfully crispy crust. Tender meat. And the sauce. A hoisin made with native ingredients including cocoa that was reminiscent of the original, but wholly unique in its own right. I can’t even explain the flavor, but it was killer. Addictive. Sweet, tangy and salty.
Our last course was the lamb with goat cheese béchamel. Another protein that I have not successfully had in this country. Chops grilled to perfection. Finger-licking good. Resting in a creamy sauce with pieces of crispy lamb bits.
For dessert, it was a simple chocolate ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce. A satisfying way to end the meal.
By the time we left, the place was full of women in floor-length gowns and men in tuxes.
A rarity of attire I have never in my time here seen in a restaurant.
Which made me feel just a little self-conscious of my floral yoga pants and gold sneakers. We had just come from a sound bath and were clad in comfy meditation clothes.
Even so, we posed for photos with the chef. Who we got to know quite well sitting next to his prep station.
As he told us, you can wear whatever you like.
Though I have a feeling he was just being generous.
We will be back.
But next time with a reservation and the appropriate anticipation of a night that reminds me of ones we used to have before we became a household where bedtimes start around seven.